How Homewatch CareGivers Is Handling Vaccine-Related Business Disruptions

COVID-19 vaccination efforts for front-line caregivers working in the home setting continue across the country. As that task unfolds, home care operators must now navigate related business disruptions, from scheduling challenges to clients refusing visits.

At a corporate level, Homewatch CareGivers has been working to make sure its franchise owners are all up to date with the latest information about vaccines. The information campaign has been crucial to curbing vaccine-related myths and boosting confidence, company leadership says.

Denver, Colorado-based Homewatch CareGivers is a home care franchise company that serves 33 states and seven countries through 230 total locations. The franchiser employs over 4,500 caregivers across its network.

There is still a lot of skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine among the general public. Concerns even exist among individuals who work in health care.

Roughly 79% of health care workers say they haven’t received enough information about the COVID-19 vaccine or its safety, side effects and administration, according to a recent survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation.

So far, about 15% of health care workers have turned down the opportunity to be vaccinated, according to a report by Surgo Ventures.

“There’s just a lot of fear in our society these days. It’s motivating people in different ways,” Jennifer Tucker, the COO of Homewatch CareGivers, told Home Health Care News. “They may be seeing misinformation on social media about deaths because of the vaccine. There are all kinds of [rumors] out there that … are largely untrue but have been getting around. And it seems like our caregiver population is especially susceptible to seeing those messages.”

Homewatch CareGivers hasn’t surveyed all of its franchise locations, Tucker said. But some of the company’s top offices have reported having a 75% to 80% vaccination rate among their caregiving pool.

One way Homewatch CareGivers has managed to cut through the misinformation is by encouraging peer-to-peer discussion between caregivers who have received the vaccine and those who have not.

“Peer-to-peer discussions seem to really work well,” Tucker said. “We certainly, in many of our offices, have nurses, social workers, health care professionals who are a part of the team. We are having them conduct some of those conversations, whether they’re one-on-one or calls with groups of caregivers on Zoom.”

At a Homewatch CareGivers New Jersey office, for example, the owner recently put together a call where nurses on the team dispelled vaccine mistruths during a call with 50 caregivers.

“If [vaccine hesitancy] is based on what sounds like just fear, which we completely understand, then it’s absolutely worthwhile to continue to try to educate [caregivers] on what the evidence says,” Tucker said.

That said, Tucker acknowledged that there will be some caregivers who refuse to be vaccinated due to religious reasons or pregnancy. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine trials haven’t included people who are pregnant.

In these cases, Homewatch CareGivers stresses the importance of being respectful.

“We’re not going to go after those people in terms of pushing message after message,” Tucker said. “We understand those reasons.”

One potential business disruption that may arise related to vaccinations is any recovery time a caregiver may need after receiving the vaccine.

“Caregivers — during either the first or second shot — may feel bad. Then they’re out of work for a few days,” Tucker said. “Our offices have schedulers. These schedulers are so adept at handling all of that.”

Business disruption related to clients turning away unvaccinated caregivers is also top of mind for Homewatch CareGivers.

At some of its franchise locations, the organization has already heard from clients who have inquired about the vaccination status of caregivers. Some have gone as far as stating that they didn’t want to be assigned a caregiver who had not been vaccinated, Tucker noted.

“We’ve had to explain, in many cases, that caregivers are on the list, and we’re working really hard to get all of our staff vaccinated. But not everyone gets vaccinated on Day 1,” she said. “For the clients themselves, many of them want to be vaccinated as well. We’ve wanted to help, so many of our offices have educated them on how they also can get in line for this.”

Tucker noted that when clients understand the process of getting vaccinated, they tend to be more understanding. So far, Homewatch CareGivers has not lost many clients due to unvaccinated-caregiver concerns, she added.

Overall, caregivers have the client’s safety in mind first and foremost, Tucker said.

“Our caregivers are so passionate about providing care,” she said “The last thing they want to do is put the clients at risk.”

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‘I Don’t Know When It Will Slow Down’: Homewatch CareGivers Nearing 40 New Locations in 2020

Homewatch CareGivers has grown its business during the COVID-19 crisis, so much so that it has even been surprising to its own executive team.

The Denver, Colorado-based home care franchise company has awarded 37 new territories in 2020, 21 of which will have new franchisees at the helm. The new offices opened in a variety of areas in the U.S., including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Utah.

“The kind of growth that we’ve had so far this year is not what we had expected,” Jennifer Tucker, the COO of Homewatch CareGivers, told Home Health Care News. “I thought maybe we would do 25 new territories this year, and we’re at 37 right now.”

Tucker, who is the top executive at the Homewatch CareGivers, is also confident the company will close on another five or so territories this year, bringing the total amount of new territories to over 40 in 2020.

The franchiser added 17 locations last year. When Tucker spoke to HHCN in early March, she was hoping it would add “at least 22” this year. Now, it’s likely that number will be nearly doubled.

As of June 2020, the Homewatch CareGivers system serves 33 states and seven countries. The franchiser employs over 4,500 caregivers across its network.

Because 2020 exceeded expectations from a growth standpoint, it has completely changed the company’s outlook over the next few years.

“Because we’ve added so many new territories this year, it means that we’ll have bigger numbers next year, because our franchise owners will be able to care for more and more clients and we’ll be able to hire more caregivers,” Tucker said.

The demand for home care, which has been accelerated by COVID-19, has played the largest part in the outsized growth. And that’s a trend that the company does not expect to slow down anytime soon.

It’s expecting more franchisee interest, more clients and more potential leads and partnerships.

“I expect it to continue into 2021, and I don’t know when it’s going to slow down,” Tucker said. “It’s definitely changing our outlook. It’s great, because growth has always been part of our plan. We do have a lot of whitespace in the United States, and we’ve really been wanting to grow domestically. So this is just kind of accelerating things for us, which is fabulous.”

Even when a vaccine is widely available and has been distributed in mass, Tucker — and a lot of other health care executives and insiders — don’t believe that the tailwinds for home-based care will subside.

There will always be a place for other types of senior care outside of home care, but now that some of the proverbial cracks have been shown in other community- or facility-based settings, there could be no going back.

“[Those other providers], they’re still really important and they fill an important need,” Tucker said. “We’re very friendly with folks in those other spaces, and we partner with them all the time. But I definitely think COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that care can be provided at home. So many people didn’t understand that home care was even an option before. And I do think it’s put a spotlight on our business.”

Its relationships with referral sources — such as home health, hospice, primary care and rehab providers, as well as hospitals — have strengthened since March.

“Our classic referral sources in markets where we were already established, those relationships have gotten even stronger,” Tucker said. “Because we’ve had to find ways to continue to connect with those folks, even though we can’t necessarily be face to face.”

Outside of the new locations, the specifics of Homewatch CareGivers’ growth have also been a bit surprising to the company. Generally a private-pay home care provider, the company’s Medicaid business is up 35%, year over year.

That’s true for all of its claims-based business, whereas private pay has been mostly flat. That is beginning to pick up as well, however, Tucker said.

The recession and new franchisees

When recessions hit, as one is now, franchisee interest ticks up. A lot of home-based care providers have seen this trend resurface during the public health emergency.

“This whole trend around the downturn in the economy, it usually drives people to being interested in small business opportunities,” Tucker said. “I just think with the pandemic, people are realizing the setting is going to be the home, and they want in on the business.”

A lot of individuals within corporate America, which is usually the demographic that is most likely to venture into franchising, are concerned about their own companies instituting layoffs or salary cuts.

Franchising gives them the opportunity to take their fate into their own hands.

“They want to be in charge of their own future and want to build something,” Tucker said. “I think that’s just the time for those more entrepreneurial corporate folks to go, ‘Yeah, I want to do something else.’ And it kind of gives them that extra boost to make a different decision.”

On Homewatch CareGivers’ end, it saw the same thing happen in the last recession around 2008 and 2009.

That trend is another that the company is not expecting to slow down. Especially as the company invests in new virtual strategies for its entire network, it believes that it will continue to be an attractive option for potential entrepreneurs.

It’s gotten to the point where Homewatch CareGivers is worried about having too many interested franchisees.

“I almost don’t know if we can handle much more interest,” Tucker said. “It’ll be a good problem to have. … Of course, we would want new clients, but the big limiter in home care for us is the lack of access to caregivers that are fabulous.”

Tucker is not worried about finding new clients, but instead, she’s worried about staffing new locations, if the growth trends continue. That’s where the company will aim a lot of its focus moving forward — finding a lot of good caregivers, and making sure to retain them.

That’s another reason the company is instituting a virtual care strategy, one that it believes will help out workers, first and foremost.

“The virtual care space [can be] really attractive to caregivers and something they really want to work with, and it drives caregiver satisfaction,” Tucker said. “So we’re looking at things that can kind of drive that efficiency, and then use caregivers in person when we absolutely have to… so those are some of the things we’re looking at for next year.”

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